Q: How did the idea for CONTAINMENT come about? Did IDW approach you to do the comic series?
I'd been thinking about a zombies-in-space story, because I hadn't seen it before. It was time for a good new space horror science fiction story, and zombies were even more dangerous on a spacecraft, because your life support system is so fragile and precarious. Not only can they eat you, but they can also kill you if they wreck the oxygen or electrical systems while on a mindless rampage. On earth, a zombie can smash through a wall and you can still get away, but on a spaceship, if a zombie breaks through an airlock the depressurization will turn everyone inside out. Plus, it's a lot harder to escape from a zombie when you're weightless! Also, in outer space a million miles from earth you are profoundly isolated, and you can't call anyone for help. It was fun to take two popular genres like the space and zombie ones, both with their established iconographies and audience expectations, and mix 'em up.
I'd always been a comics fan and like a lot of directors who storyboard their films, I found the process not dissimilar from a comic. Storyboarding, you work with an artist and draw out every shot in a sequence to pre-visualize the film and refine the coverage. Looking at the storyboards for a film is a lot like reading a comic. The approach is very similar. With "CONTAINMENT" I drew on my storyboarding experience directing films, so it wasn't much of a stretch.
I'd been intrigued with doing a graphic novel. Last year, Jeff Mariotte, who was the then editor at IDW, asked me to write the introduction to Steve Niles' and Ben Templesmith's "DARK DAYS," the sequel to "30 DAYS OF NIGHT." I was impressed how far the graphic novel and comic format had evolved as a dynamic and immersive visual storytelling medium. It really is a new art form that pulls from film, novels and comics, but is it's own thing.
That lit a fire under my ass to do a comic myself, so I sent IDW the treatment for "CONTAINMENT" and the publisher Ted Adams said, "let's do it."
Q: The story takes place in a very "real" world, in the sense that there's no "faster than light travel" on the spaceship (the trip to Saturn will take 32 years) and the zombies have a plausible explanation (as opposed to "There's no room left in hell"). It almost seems like you went out of your way to go against what's been done before (as in ALIEN and the Romero and Fulci zombie movies).
There needed to be a legitimate reason why you had zombies in space, because obviously they couldn't claw their way up past sod and tombstones on a rocket. A malfunction in cryogenic freezer pods that sustain the astronauts in hypersleep made sense for how the zombies were made. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to do something a little different in terms of zombies than the same rotting carcass, shoot-'em-in-the-head cliché zombie we've seen ad nauseam, especially in comics. Our zombies are more "frosted freezer burn" than "worms and soil," but they still eat your brains.
I tried to ground the story and keep it realistic and convincing so the reader believes what's going on. Without being too technical, it stays within the general boundaries of current research on space exploration. Scientific reality actually worked for the story from a horror standpoint. I was struck when I researched space ships and space stations such as the Mir how cramped the actual quarters are. Of course, that's great for a horror story because the more claustrophobic the setting, the more trapped you are with the monster and the greater the tension.
I wanted it to be different, but the same, "uniquely generic" as Joel Silver says. It's in the space genre, it's in the zombie genre, and plays with the iconography and ground rules of both. "CONTAINMENT" doesn't reinvent the wheel but it rotates the tires.
Q: How is writing a comic comparable to writing a movie script? The similarities/differences…
Writing a comic script is like writing a screenplay with all the camera angles, because the story is told in comic frames. Plus there's less room for dialogue, so you have fewer lines. I enjoyed the different visual vocabulary where in a film you use a crane shot for a big moment but in a comic you use a one or two page panel to achieve the same visual impact.
Q: Did you know who was going to be doing the artwork beforehand-and how do you think Nick Stakal's work complemented the story?
Nick came on board later. After the first issue script was completed, Chris Ryall, the current editor at IDW, searched for an artist who had the right style to match the feel of the piece, and found Nick. I think Stakal totally nailed the grungy, gritty, claustrophobic feel of the ship. It's like an oil tanker in space, low tech, industrial and dangerous. He made great use of darkness and mood. Sometimes the script was a challenge for him. I mean, when you write the zombies kill the power and cut the lights and the only illumination on the whole spaceship is a single flashlight you don't give an artist a lot to work with! In his stuff, you can taste the sweat and smell the rust. I gather he sometimes used photographs as the base for art, using a kind of rotoscoping technique, which contributes to making the character's expressions so authentic. In his artwork, the atmosphere itself becomes a character.
I try never to underestimate the importance of atmosphere in horror. Whether it's horror film, horror comics or even horror computer games, well-rendered atmosphere is what the audience connects viscerally with as much as anything else.
Q: There's also a grim sense of humor to the story, particularly when one of the astronauts gets her nose bitten off (she doesn't believe her crewmates are zombies, even if it bit her in the face-and it does!), as well as what one of the human characters has in mind for the corpse of his fellow crewmate if she dies. It makes the story even more disparaging, to a certain extent...
I never thought of the nose-biting sequence like that, but you have a point!
It's very human to crack jokes in the face of death, plus the story is so grim, grueling and relentless there has to be some relief from the tension. It's a death's end sense of humor though, because a sense of doom permeates everything, and throughout the piece is the loneliness and isolation of outer space and long distance space travel. These astronauts are stuck millions miles from earth in a tin can, and the desperate situation grinds away at their humanity. Fear and self-preservation kick in. Some of them act bravely. Some of them cover their own ass, like many of us would. All are in a situation where they can't do the right thing because their best intentions could get them all killed, or worse. But there is irony, like for example, the most of tough-minded of the astronauts when it comes to killing their zombie buddies is the one who sacrifices his life to save a friend. The hero of the story, Stark, does the best she can to save her crew, but ultimately her own steely survival instinct is all that she has left, and even that has an ironic coda.
Q: The comic finishes in such a way as there could be a follow-up story/sequel. Do you think there will be a continuation of the story?
You mean, is someone, or something, going to answer that final Mayday? You never know. But for me the story really ends here, with no exit for any of the characters. I wanted this to be a throwback to those classic horror downbeat endings I grew up on.
Q: Are there going to be any other stories that you'll be doing for IDW? What about an adaptation of your next movie, NIGHT LIFE?
I'd love to do another comic series, when I get an idea for one.